Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Lithium in Afghanistan

Last week, the Post and other papers reported the discovery of huge mineral deposits (worth literally trillions of dollars?!!) in Afghanistan.

The minerals there include:
  • Iron
  • Copper
  • Cobalt
  • Gold
  • Lithium
The lithium discovery is getting the most play (Afghanistan :: lithium as Saudi Arabia :: oil ?). Evidently lithium is used to make the batteries in laptops.  I'm not sure I'd even heard of lithium until about 10 years ago, but now it does get mentioned a lot.

Christopher Hitchens has a piece in Slate this week (here) in which he argues that westerners should be psyched about (rather than wringing their hands over) the mineral discoveries. 

He says the minerals provide the opportunity for real economic development in Afghanistan -- and for forging a closer alliance between Afghanistan and India (rather than Pakistan), which he says is the key to long-term stability there.

Ironically, I thought the most powerful portion of Hitchen's piece was his summary of the way in which mineral deposits have -- in the past -- brought trouble to countries:
The story of countries that are poor because they are rich is an old one: The Congo has been a scandalous example since the time of its private ownership by the Belgian royal family in the 19th century, and to the list of nations subject to depredation by resource exploitation one could also add Haiti, Angola, India, and (to be fair) China. Afghanistan has no infrastructure or professional civil service, no tradition of extractive industry, and no mechanism for sharing resources among its wildly discrepant provinces and regions. A Klondike beyond the Khyber could be the last thing it needs.

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